Interview with Matthew Waldman of Nooka

Nooka - the word itself doesn’t hint to any particular etymological origin other than being engineered to evoke the optimism of the future. It’s a word that attempts to transcend the geopolitical barriers of language, and it’s the word of a mindstyle™ company that creates products on the ethos of universal communication. Nooka present this universal communication through products that seem to have come from the future. Whether through watches, belts, or wallets, Nooka pushes the status quo these products are conventionally found in and makes them anew.

The driver of this innovative vehicle is Matthew Waldman, founder and Chief Designer of Nooka. Osaama Saifi of BARE magazine had the opportunity to sit down with Matt to find out how his futuristic mind works.

Thank you for being with us today and setting some time aside for us in your busy schedule.

Of course, it’s my pleasure.

How did you get into design?

It’s difficult to point to any particular incident but growing up in a New York City in a part of the city with new immigrants arriving all the time got me communicating with art and design at a very early age. The ethos of my design lies in creating universal communication. I’ve always communicated visually. Visual communication was intuitive for me and converting this intuition into a career of design was just an unbroken path from the uterus.

Nicely said, and I believe the idea of universal communication is inherent in Nooka. Nooka utilizes something as ubiquitous as time and expressing it in a universal way as seen in the watches’ designs.

Right, everything about the brand is intentionally trying to transcend geopolitical barriers and create something universal for all. But continuing your previous question, I began designing professionally as a teenager, and then in the mid 90s I worked on web design before there was a foundation in web architecture.

As I was redesigning interfaces before information architecture was an established discipline, I needed to re-train myself to create very intuitive design processes. As part of that exercise, one of the interfaces I came across was a clock.

Adults assume standard clocks are intuitive. If they were then why do kids have to learn how to tell time in school? So I set a challenge for myself to create a timepiece that a three year old could read.

I tell people we are not a watch company, the birth of the brand was in the design studio for web and interactive projects. Nooka is about bringing techno-progressivism to every day objects and using intuitive design to create universal communication.

You had the chance of studying in Harvard, but you instead took up the opportunity to live and work in Tokyo. How has this type of social education molded Nooka?

I got accepted to Harvard but I didn’t attend. Nonetheless I’ve had a unique social education by being immersed in New York City and getting to work in Tokyo. I didn’t grow up in an upper-class environment but instead in an urban one that has its own artistic appeal. Before I went to Tokyo, I’ve never had to deal with strict social rules. So in that sense, I got my strict formative business education by working in Tokyo. I grew a lot from that experience; I went from New York City which imbues a sort of disorganization to Tokyo which demands its own type of order.

You mention Tokyo has an order to it, are you trying to bring that order to Nooka as well? Nooka does seem to contain that order, but it also contains innovation and techno-progressivism.

Well that’s a hard one – Tokyo has some of the worst urban planning of any city that size you can visit – yet it functions in an orderly way. This is because of the people and the culture, not because of design. Now NYC is extremely ordered in it’s urban design yet is simultaneously chaotic.

It’s not just about order. Nooka products are often seen to be just an exercise in aesthetics of design, but that isn’t entirely correct. Nooka is about intuitive processes. Even if that innovation is a new look and feel, the genesis still relies on innovation.

But even with the limitlessness of a designer’s imagination and innovation, a designer still has to balance this innovation with the pragmatism of creating an actual product. How do you balance this?

Well I am absolutely forced to balance this. Nooka is a self-funded start up and we have to be fiscally responsible. Especially in a place like New York, space is premium. For example I designed some shoes for Fila in China. When I calculated doing such a product in the US the warehouse space made it unfeasible. The economics of the situation forces me to be pragmatic, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that my thinking is pragmatic.

There is also sometimes a disconnect between the producer and consumer’s expectations. The consumer has a full set of evolving expectations when they buy a flat screen TV, computer or cell phone. When they purchase a watch or a belt, they don’t apply those same set of expectations in terms of innovation. To me that is a bigger problem.

For example people tell me to watch the show Mad Men, which I bet is a great show, but I would just rather spend my time reading or watching something science fiction or at least in the present. It’s important for me to contemplate the possible futures than to focus my energies on the past. The past is important, but when people watch Mad Men and start wearing skinny ties, the net effect on society is negative. Silly as it may seem to say, but what are the other possibilities with ties besides what we have seen in the past? Let’s just say I am anti-nostalgia and believe people should try to create an innovative future for themselves rather than live in the past.

That’s interesting because society seems to trend back to the past, whether it’s trying to bring back the retro 90’s or another genre. Isn’t the past a foundation for innovation?

Well you need a foundation, fashion and design is a visual language, and if you’re not speaking the same language you will not have a commercial success. It’s a slippery slope. Dressing like a lumberjack in Berkeley, San Francisco, or New York doesn’t make much sense, and I am not trying to insult anyone or be a style-czar. There are individuals who look great in that attire. But we are living in a techno progressive world, and society as a whole should embrace that.

Should fashion then rely on functionality?

Fashion is a visual language, and you want to convey a message about yourself through how you look. If a person is not in sync with what they want to communicate, then there’s a disconnect. Putting on a necktie and an ironed shirt doesn’t change your personality, but it changes the message you’re trying to communicate. If you understand what you’re communicating then you can push your style. On a basic level, fashion is about a new experience. A lot of people who don’t follow fashion, when they see the fashion shows in Milan, Paris, or New York, wonder “Who would wear that?” But it’s not about wearing those clothes; it’s about creativity, art, and communication. At the moment, the only industries that are good about futurism are consumer electronics and fashion. I’d like to see everyone apply that kind of thinking. The process of thinking about how you can innovate will open up new avenues. This is why I try to resist nostalgia because I think it limits your mind to what’s already been done.

Fashion almost then seems comparable to science or mathematics, in the sense that fashion is able to communicate a certain reality about the world.

There are so many examples in fashion that could benefit from a more academic analysis. You could take any conflict in the world, say, the Israel-Palestine conflict and analyze fashion to understand similarities and differences. If you found a Palestine kid wearing Air Jordans and you found an Israeli kid wearing Air Jordans, you know they would have something in common to talk about. So in that sense, fashion does communicate all across these fabricated differences. You can be sure that someone wearing Prada in New York or Tehran will be communicating something similar regardless of the language they speak. If you focus on differences you’re not making the synergies to move forward. It’s unfortunate that fashion doesn’t have more articulate voices for these realities. Fashion’s innate interconnection is extremely profound, and I’ll take it upon myself to argue that.

That’s a great cause and we really should see more of this type of discussion in fashion.

I think people sometimes wonder what’s the social value of design, and it’s incredibly empowering if you’re connecting people and making them think differently about the world or themselves. It’s a very positive thing if you can make people feel better about themselves and better about each other.

That’s true, people do dress for themselves even if no one will see them in their neck-tie, or whatever the article of clothing they are wearing.

Exactly. There is this famous Seinfeld episode where George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander, is going out wearing sweat pants and Seinfeld tells George, you cannot wear the sweat pants out, you’re telling the world “I’ve given up!” So popular culture understands the communication of clothing; it’s a funny thing.

Well I hope we continue to not give up on the potential fashion has on connecting society. Thank you for your time and for letting us to connect here.

Cool, thanks for having for me.

All images courtesy of Nooka.

Besides being a reporter for BARE magazine, Osaama Saifi fights grime in dark alley ways and rids injustice from the grouts of society.

1 comment:

  1. It would have been interesting to include some price points in the article